The UAE is full of unusual and fascinating spots where nature lovers can learn more about this complex and important region, from the wetlands of Wathba to the mangroves of the coast and the towering dunes of the desert. If you’re a nature lover, enjoy exploring, or just want to spend a day at the zoo with the kids, here are our top spots for nature lovers in Abu Dhabi.
The Wathba Wetland Reserve
Located 40 kilometres southeast of central Abu Dhabi, just past Mussfah, you’ll find the stunning Wathba Wetland reserve. It may seem odd to find a wetland reserve in the middle of a desert, but this extraordinary location is packed with wildlife, flora, and fauna.
Established in 1998 by Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan, it was the first site in the Emirates to be declared a nature reserve and achieved Ramsar status in 2013, meaning it is regarded as a site of special interest by the Conventions On Wetlands of International Importance. It only covers 5km sq., but in that small space you’ll find everything from salt flats (sabkhas), wetlands, fossilised sands, and towering dunes.
It’s home to several endangered species, more than 250 species of birds, and 37 unique plant species. You’ll also catch an occasional flash of iridescent blue and green, as the park is home to thousands of dragonflies. As an ecologically sensitive area, visiting times are limited to Thursdays and Saturdays from 8am to 2pm.
The UAE is home to some diverse ecosystems, and some of the most complex and interesting are the mangroves of Abu Dhabi. The huge mangroves make it almost impossible to walk through the region, so the best way to see this unique location is to hop into a kayak and take a guided tour along the rivers and inlets.
Experienced local guides make sure you’re safe and don’t get lost in the maze of waterways, and you’ll have a chance to get up close and personal to the local wildlife and see this unique marine ecosystem from a completely different perspective.
On the northern edge of Rub' al Khali desert is the Liwa Oasis. This is a cluster of villages, where traditional Bedouin life is still very much in evidence, despite its continued expansion as a tourist spot. It’s a great base if you want to go and explore the huge dunes and take one of the many desert safaris on offer.
South of the settlement, you’ll find the Moreeb dune or ‘Tal Mireb’, the largest dune in the Emirates. Expect to see more camels than people, and as it can be a long trek it’s advisable to employ one of the local guides to help you navigate your way around the desert safely.
Emirates Park Zoo
If you want to introduce the little ones to some wildlife but don’t want to go all-out on an expedition, head to the Emirates Park Zoo in Abu Dhabi. It’s home to over 1,800 animals, including white tigers, cheetahs, bears and lions. It’s a great spot for kids, and the Zoo is committed to teaching children about conservation and the importance of protecting wildlife habitats.
On World Wildlife Day the Zoo holds special events to increase awareness of wildlife conservation. It’s also a great location for a family day out, especially if you’re looking for something to keep the kids happy without breaking the bank.